Anti-Immigration Group FAIR: Market Is Like “A Mob Without Reason, Irrational and Immoral”

by David Bier on December 7, 2012 · 11 comments

in Features, Immigration, International, Trade

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Last week, Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) denounced CEI’s position on immigration. Mehlman argued new foreign workers would degrade wages and make America poorer. I responded by noting opposition on such grounds is not anti-immigrant, but fundamentally anti-people. “If fewer workers means more prosperity, then wouldn’t no workers be the ultimate prosperity?” I asked. “When have we limited the workforce enough?”

Mehlman has now responded twice without answering this question. Instead, he expanded to a general attack on the market. He said Americans shouldn’t want their destiny determined by an amorphous and unaccountable entity like ‘the market.’” I noted the free market is just free people — Americans like you and me, not some “amorphous entity” — and is made accountable by our own free choices. Mehlman responded by making it clear how little respect he has for this free choice:

Okay, David, try this one: What is a mob? It is people, acting without reason, making irrational and immoral decisions which cause great harm. As a civilized society we have the right to restrict the freedom of a mob to act like a mob. Without the application of reason, we will lose our freedoms and our liberties.

Wait, so the market without government regulation is like a “mob, making irrational and immoral decisions”? No, the market is not a “mob” – it is free people, making nonviolent decisions based on their own personal knowledge of their circumstances. And, unlike a mob, consumers and producers can’t “cause great harm” since they must trade to get what they want. As Milton Friedman put it, “The most important single fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”

“Economies and markets exist to serve humans, not the other way around,” Mehlman says (repeating the earlier fallacy of separating “humans” from the “market”). But that is what people in a marketplace do — they peacefully serve others with goods and services those other people need. Mehlman doesn’t like this spontaneous, nonviolent process since, in his world, free people act “without reason.”

To correct the unreasonable mob, Mehlman wants to trust this very same “mob” to regulate the entire economy “reasonably.” This confirms what Frédéric Bastiat said about “social democrats”: “So far as they are democratic, they place unlimited faith in mankind. But so far as they are social, they regard mankind as little better than mud” — well, maybe not mud, just an unruly mob intent on buying products made by foreigners. I echo Bastiat, “If people are as incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as [they] indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote defended with such passionate insistence?”

Let’s just suppose this “mob” can choose reasonably, as I did in my original post. I didn’t oppose Americans choosing. I simply argued they should choose freedom. Specifically, I said allowing new people will create an even more prosperous nation.  This is not the only argument for immigration reform. There are, in fact, social, economic, political and national security arguments for reform. I focused on the economics because Mehlman claimed new workers hurt America.

Mehlman no longer wants to debate economics. He wants to talk about the social effects of immigration, which is fine — it’s just off the original point. What isn’t fine is the straw man he creates. He claims libertarians “look at a nation simply in terms of where they can make the most money,” which is not true. Nations should allow people the opportunity to move to make money — or for any other reason — but that doesn’t mean we think money defines a nation. In fact, most libertarians probably would agree with his statement that a “nation promises that it will look out for the best interests of its people.”

Our discussion was about that very question: What is best for the nation? Mehlman claims free movement will hasten apocalypse, that government must “demand the allegiance and sacrifice of its people” because allowing people to move causes “social order and stability to disintegrate” and “economies and markets… [to] crumble along with them.” But this argument is not against a right to enter but against a right to leave. Mehlman claims his model society is not the Soviet Union, but apparently, he cares more about walls to keep people in than walls to keep people out. Allegiance must be mandatory and expatriation forbidden.

In the early 19th century, forced loyalty was the dominant view throughout the world. But as the oppressed poured out of Europe, Americans defended their right to leave behind despots and monarchs who demanded perpetual allegiance, and this right eventually became as basic as free speech. “I hold the right of expatriation to be inherent in every man by the laws of nature,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “and incapable of being rightfully taken from him even by the united will of every other person in the nation.” Nations can be built on consent, not force. If free movement of “its people” destroys nations, America should have fallen from the scene long ago.

“FAIR may find itself at odds with the luminaries of Social Darwinism who guide CEI’s philosophy,” Mehlman writes. No, FAIR finds itself at odds with Thomas Jefferson and every declaration of human rights in the world. Ironically, Mehlman goes onto praise actual Social Darwinists, the early 20th century Progressive eugenicists such as Theodore Roosevelt, who closed America’s doors for explicitly racist reasons. If FAIR wants to identify themselves with such men, it should at least honestly acknowledge its true agenda.

Ira Mehlman December 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

It’s been fun, David. I’ll let you have the last word.

In direct answer to your question: We’ll know when our labor force is insufficient when we see significant wage inflation. That’s kind of how markets let us know when a commodity is in short supply. Right now the labor market seems to be telling us it’s got enough.

David Bier December 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Yes, I guess I work under the economist’s confusion that we know that our economy has “enough” of a commodity when people–consumers and producers–consider the costs of the next marginal unit to be higher than its benefits. And that artificial price supports distort markets, lowering output and injuring consumers.

But you’re right about one thing: it has been fun. Until next time…

BillAlphonso December 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm

“The Market” only affects people that are working low wage jobs. The doctors and engineers make sure to lobby to keep out the competition. The middle class and upper class are perfectly fine with having millions of illegal immigrants taking jobs but when we talk about their own jobs having competition, they start whining for protections from lobbyists.

If more people are better than less, let’s add the entire nation of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Haiti. There’s no way that couldn’t be a good thing.

David Bier December 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm

There’s a real easy way to “add the entire nation of Bangladesh” to the U.S. economy–allow free trade. That would put Bangladeshi workers in direct competition with Americans, but economics tells us it would greatly enhance both countries’ economies. Migration is just like trade except the “resource” is people.

Annie Jo December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Anti-American bigotry at it’s best. Telling American U.S. citizens, they have no right to their country, people from the world does. Anti-American bigots constantly attacking the victim, U.S. citizens. The only victims in the immoral organized crime of Illegal Immigration, are U.S. citizens and our children.

It is no ones human right to come to the U.S. We have 310,000,000 U.S. citizens to look out for. Every immigrant that demands to come here, already have a country. The one they reside in. Chinese have China. Africans have, the continent of Africa. Indians have India. The United States Citizens have their own sovereign nation, called the United States of America. As a sovereign nation, we have the same Equal Rights as the rest of the world. The right to our own sovereign nation, and the right to keep it.

Joseph N.J. Gerth December 8, 2012 at 3:16 am

Migration, otherwise “voting with one’s feet” is a fundamental human right.

The idea that government must “demand the allegiance and sacrifice of its people” or that government has any right to do so is a primary tenant of classical Italian Fascism, the real kind.

The market is neither servant nor master. It is a product of voluntary interactions between people pursuing their own interests day in, day out. Nothing more, nothing less. But the arguments shared by classical fascists, national socialists, and international socialists are formed by divorcing the concept of human action from the market, trying to frame it as some ominous creature that is is manifestly not.

As for “social disorder”, that is an appeal firmly in the camp of discredited social conservativism. A concept that in the last election was soundly crushed by Americans of all political persuasions as a majority. The only society that is immune to change is a dead one. Society can manage change quite well on its own without the state needing to register it’s usually quite wrongheaded opinions.

jerry hale December 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

“Migration, otherwise “voting with one’s feet” is a fundamental human right.”

I’ll believe this when not paying taxes also becomes ‘a fundamental human right’. At the logical extreme of your statement you are effectively stating that there is no such thing as private property. That you have the right to go and set up camp wherever you want to because it’s your ‘fundamental human right’ to do so.

George Carlin on ‘Rights and Privileges’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaa9iw85tW8

At the end of the day, what you have a ‘fundamental human right’ to is what you can hold in two hands at dead run.

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union”

What does this statement mean when you have a ‘fundamental human right’ to say whether you belong to this union or not at your whim? What does the word ‘citizen’ mean at the point that you can arbitrarily decide that you want to enter a country and reside there because it’s your ‘fundamental human right’ to do so? And why would I ever agree to pay taxes in a system where it is your right to do that?

David Bier December 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

“Telling U.S. citizens they have no right to their country”–where did I do that exactly?

Joseph N.J. Gerth December 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm

“demand the allegiance and sacrifice of its people”

Sounds fascistic to me, and I mean in the classical Italian Fascist sense.

Joseph N.J. Gerth December 8, 2012 at 2:43 am

I hate to break it to the fans of Italian fascism, but the market is the true will of the people.

jerry hale December 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

“If fewer workers means more prosperity, then wouldn’t no workers be the ultimate prosperity?”

Simple sayings are usually simple for a reason. By your reasoning the price of everything should be about the same because the supply of a given good or service should have no bearing on its price. The price of a good or service (or labor) is to a large extent determined by its supply. Deal with it.

“Mehlman has now responded twice without answering this question.”

Probably because simple sayings are usually simple for a reason.

“I noted the free market is just free people”

You make the assumption that there is a ‘free market’ to begin with. If there was truly a ‘free market’ in the U.S. there would be no farm subsidies (which is a significant reason that 62% of all illegal immigrants are from Mexico despite the fact that Mexico has dominated the U.S. family based immigration system since the ’86 IRCA), there would be no oil depletion allowance, etc., etc.

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